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I truly believe we were never meant to die. Most of my opinions are shaped by my Christian faith. In our early years, from our mid-teens onwards, we are biologically equipped to become parents, but at the age of 45 or so, our bodies lose that particular ability. At least the female of our species does. I am sure that there's a reason for that. Looking after children, nurturing them, teaching them and protecting them, takes up a lot of our time. We also need some time for ourselves. This is nature's way, or maybe God's way, of ensuring that this happens. However, in the Bible, there are several stories of women conceiving children late in life. The Biblical matriarch, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is one such woman. She conceived at the age of 90, according to the Bible. When I reached India at the age of 30 and got married, I was told by several tactless people that my marriage was 'too late' and that my husband and I would be 'too old' to be much use to our growing children. Thankfully, I don't remember who gave me this bad news. They were wrong, in any case.
Why Do We Die?
Many religious people, in various religions, say that we die because of 'God's Will'. I think that's nonsense. God's Will is never for death. He is the Author of Life. His Will is 'let there be light'. And certainly, let there be life. So why do we die? We die because we feel we are too old. When we get older and face different medical problems, we blame old age. We accept it. When your mind accepts old age and death, your body will automatically follow. That's how powerful the mind is. Also, I believe we live in a fallen world. Bad things can and do happen. There are horrible diseases out there, like cancer and Covid-19. Sometimes cars go out of control and cause fatal accidents. Sometimes the mind goes out of kilter and we end up losing our sanity. With some people, dementia can set in in their 40s. My late father-in-law, Krishna Swarup Bhatnager (or 'Papaji', as we called him) died in his early 80s. He didn't want to become very old and be a burden to anyone. Right up to the last six months of his life, he was slim, fit and healthy. He had the stamina of a man half his age. Apart from the fact that he had grey hair, he didn't look his age at all. My mother saw him stripped to the waist, sweeping the yard at our house in India. He believed in doing as much manual labour as possible. 'Oh, my God,' she gasped. 'That man has the body of a thirty-year-old'. She wasn't wrong. His final illness was very difficult but mercifully short. He took about six months to leave us. He died as he wished to do so, in his early 80s, having accomplished everything he wanted to do in his life. My beloved mother was a woman of great faith in God. Alas, she had a relapse of cancer and didn't survive.
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A Regulated Life
Papaji's philosophy for a healthy life was simple. Do everything on time. Get up on time in the morning. Go to sleep on time at night. Eat your meals on time. Eat food that is simple, vegetarian and well-cooked. He met his friends every day and loved to laugh. He prayed to God every day. I do wish he could have stayed with us for a few more years, but I learned a lot from him. I don't know what lead to his final, fatal illness, but I think his own acceptance of early death had a lot to do with it. I'm sure he could have lasted another 20 good years had he wished to do so. Most people, however, are not disciplined about life. I include myself in that number. We should eat only good, simple food. Alas, my love of sweets and chocolates makes that difficult. But I feel as I head towards my 60s, I should take a leaf out of Papaji's book and start living in a more disciplined manner. From all I've seen, heard and read, it seems that keeping your immunity strong is the key to a healthy life.
Systems of Medicine
When I lived in Ireland, I knew only one system of medicine. That's the usual system of medicine. What Indian people call 'Angrezi Dawa' (English medicine) or 'allopathic medicine'. What we in the west would call 'medical science'. In India, I learned about many more systems of alternative medicine. There's Indian 'ayurveda', the ancient Indian system of medical science. The Muslim community in India favours a system called 'Unani medicine'. That's Greek medicine. 'Unan' is the Arabic word for 'Greek'. There were great Arab scholars in the early days of Islam who got their hands on the ancient Greek medical works and translated them. From my university studies in science, it appears that both Unani and Ayurvedic medical systems are simply the ancient world's response to the medical needs of their time. They are not in conflict with modern medicine. They are an early evolution of modern medicine. They are more herb-based than chemical-based. But anyone who believes that the ayurvedic or unani treatments are without side effects and are totally natural should be very careful. Down the years, some of the Indian athletes were disqualified from their sports for dabbling in drugs to enhance their performance. In their defence, they claimed they were only using herbal preparations of an Ayurvedic or Unani nature. They were probably telling the truth, but you can't be too careful when it comes to medicines.
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Ayurvedic and Unani medicine are not the only alternative medicines I've encountered in India. In our district, Gomtinagar in Lucknow, there is a crossroads '(choraha') called the Hahnemann Choraha. I always assumed it was the 'Hanuman Choraha'. A very favourite Hindu deity in Lucknow is Sri Hanuman, or Lord Hanuman. In the ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana, Sri Hanuman is the devoted follower of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu of the divine Hindu trinity. He is closely identified with the 'langur', a species of monkey indigenous to north India. It is also claimed by some Hindu mystics that Sri Hanuman is an incarnation of Lord Shiva, another member of the divine Hindu trinity. I should explain that Hindu worship is built around a supreme trinity of gods, who in turn, are worshipped and followed by other deities. Any Hindu is free to worship whichever form of God with which he identifies. Sri Hanuman is loved in north India for his simple devotion and love for Lord Rama. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that 'Hanuman Choraha' was, in fact, 'Hahnemann Choraha'. Who was Hahnemann? There's a huge statue of him at the Hahnemann Choraha. He is someone completely different from the deity, Sri Hanuman. Hahnemann was a German researcher who lived in the 18th century and discovered what is today known as 'homoeopathic medicine'. This branch of alternative medicine has a lot of followers in the USA and India and very little followers anywhere else. Homoeopathic treatment has been found to be most effective in skin and stomach ailments. My late Papaji was devoted to homoeopathic medicines and always kept some of them in the house to use as first aid. I always used arnica to help me recover after my deliveries and also I used it if the kids fell down and hurt themselves while they were playing. The children always loved to take those little sugar pills and felt better immediately.
Medical Treatment - Stopped in its Tracks
No article on medicine today can be complete without a mention of Covid-19. One of the effects of the pandemic is that you cannot get the treatment you need for anything unless you pass a Covid-19 test. One of our family friends died recently waiting for dialysis treatment as he failed the Covid-19 test. It's a tragedy. Medical personnel in Ireland, India and everywhere else in the world are stretched to their limits because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the biopharmaceutical industry is making every effort to source a vaccine for this horrible illness. One minute, you read on the Internet that three or four countries are on the verge of producing a vaccine. Then you hear that we're a long way away from a vaccine yet. It's hard to know what to believe.
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Blaming the Doctors
In general, Indian doctors are excellent. On the upside, if a doctor gets a name for being excellent at the management of disease and is known to cure many patients, he or she can become very renowned and make a lot of money. Some people in this country (India) where I live to proclaim 'the doctor is next to God'. That's a bit strong, isn't it? I always thought so. But there's a downside to being a doctor that most people just don't want to know about. When a patient dies here in India, particularly a patient who is gone before their full lifespan, there can be terrible consequences. Particularly if the family of the patient decides that the doctor is to blame. I have so many stories about this particular subject. Nearly 20 years ago, I was in the maternity hospital in Lucknow. I was pregnant and suffering from hypertension so the doctor took me into hospital for observation. One evening, my husband's recently married niece came to see me along with her husband. They told me that there were huge crowds outside the hospital and it appeared that a riot was being controlled by the police. My husband arrived later and told me that he'd found out what had happened. A newly-delivered mother had just died, leaving her infant behind. How did it happen? She was, apparently, a weak and thin young woman and she had just delivered a baby by caesarean operation. She was heavily stitched as her operation had been complicated. Some of her relatives gave her some dates to eat. Dates are very good and nutritious, but sadly, a piece of date got stuck in the patient's windpipe, causing her to cough violently. She almost choked and coughed so badly that her stitches burst and started to bleed. Once her attendants realised her situation, they saw to it that she was rushed to the operating theatre. Unfortunately, the doctors were unable to save her. However, lots of people from her village came running to the hospital. They surrounded the hospital and threatened the doctors. The doctors were locked inside and were terrified to come out. I don't blame them. Doctors have been left for dead here in India after angry relatives have attacked them because of a patient's untimely death.
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I remember when I first came to India, telling the children in my in-law family that my own father had died of cancer when he was just 41 years old. It was some 17 years later, but everyone was horrified at the thought of a man dying so young, with children still growing up. One of my nephews got very tearful about it. 'Aunty, why did your father die so young? Was there no good doctor? Was there no good hospital?' he asked. I was very touched by his concern. But I realised that whenever he heard anything like this in his young life, the explanation was invariably given that that the hospital or the doctor was to blame. I tried to calm the child down. I told him my dad was in a very good hospital and got great treatment, but sometimes, people just die. It happens and we have to accept it. But he had terrible trouble accepting this. This was something he wasn't used to hearing. When my first pregnancy was confirmed, I told the doctor about a close relative of mine who had given birth to a baby about two years previously. Unfortunately, the child had expired a few hours after death in spite of the hospital's best efforts. The lady doctor seemed very disturbed when I told her this. In fact, I had been instructed to share this information with my doctors in order to pre-empt possible problems in my own pregnancy. One day, on one of my visits, the doctor asked me 'did your family blame the doctor when your relative's baby died?' I was honestly astonished. 'No, not at all,' I replied. 'Why should we blame the doctor? It wasn't their fault.' She seemed very relieved. I didn't understand this at the time, but now I do. Irish people in general, were never in the habit of blaming doctors because what human is powerful enough to hold a life in their hands?
Better Become a Poledancer
A fellow blogger and blogging friend of mine, Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan, writes a powerful blog called 'Godyears'. Once, he famously blogged that he would rather see his future child become a pole dancer than become a doctor in India. This is because of the terrible violence and retribution that has been faced by doctors even for following the law. That 'pole dancer' remark was even picked up by the BBC. This tendency of blaming doctors for deaths which can't be helped has lead to terrible consequences. But there's no room to discuss that here and now. Maybe next time.
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